The 101: 3 Numbers That Can Dramatically Improve Your Rowing

The 101: 3 Numbers That Can Dramatically Improve Your Rowing

The 101: 3 Numbers That Can Dramatically Improve Your Rowing

by John O’Hara

3 numbers that can dramatically improve your rowing performance are:

1) Stroke Rate – How fast you’re able to move the water around inside your body.

2) Drag Factor – How much force you exert on the water.

If it’s too little, then you’ll have trouble moving the boat quickly enough. If it’s too much, then you won’t be able to keep up with the other guys.

3) Finishing Speed – How fast you finish your race.

These three factors determine how well you row. They’re all related, but they’re not necessarily in direct competition with each other. You need to understand them both separately and together so that you can maximize their benefits while minimizing their disadvantages.

What do these numbers mean?

Well, let’s take a look at stroke rate first.

Stroke Rate – How Fast You’re Able to Move the Water Around Inside Your Body

You might think that if you could just get faster at rowing, you’d win every time. But there are some things that must happen before you can achieve this goal. These include:

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Your ability to generate power from your legs (your “aerobic” system).

Your ability to sustain that leg power for the whole race (your “anaerobic” system).

The way you transfer that leg power into your upper body (your “skill factor”).

The way your upper body handles the oars (your “mechanical” system).

The way your lower back, shoulders, arms, hands, and fingers work together to handle the oars (your “biomechanical” system).

These five factors interact with each other in complex ways to determine how fast you can ultimately row. For example, if you were an Olympic athlete who had trained extensively in all of the above systems, you might be able to row at a 2:1 ratio (two pulls for every one dip of the oar handles) at close to 20 strokes per minute for up to an hour! (Whereas most rowers have to stop at a 1:1 ratio of around 16 spm because their aerobic, anaerobic, and/or skill factors are not good enough to sustain it for any longer).

What this means for you is that if you want to improve your rowing, you need to improve these five factors as well. And there are only two ways in which you can do this…

Are you ready for this?

Here it comes…

You need to either increase the relevant ability of each of the five factors, or you need to decrease the amount of that factor required to row at your maximum level!

If that sounds too complicated to you, then let’s simplify things even further…

What you need to do is train yourself in such a way that your body gets used to working harder for longer periods of time. This means you need to train your aerobic system, anaerobic system, skill factor, mechanical efficiency, and all those other things I mentioned above.

But how do you train them?

Well, there are several different factors involved in each training type. So the first thing you need to do is find out what your weakest link is.

Where are you weakest in terms of your five major factors? Which one do you neglect the most?

That’s the one you need to work on.

But here’s the kicker…

The 101: 3 Numbers That Can Dramatically Improve Your Rowing on

You need to work on it ALL THE TIME!

That’s right, you can’t just do a little extra training during the racing season and then forget about it the rest of the year. You have to constantly subject your body to the loads that rowing places on it if you ever want to be good. This means staying in “prime condition” year round.

Of course, this may be hard if you’re not in a full time training program and have to work a 40 hour a week job at the same time. But that’s life, and if you really want to be good, you need to make the time no matter what.

Now, if you’ve made it this far, you’re probably saying to yourself one of three things…

1.) Holy Crap! I never knew all this was involved!


Is this guy kidding me?

This is a lot of work!


3.) I’m gonna eat cheesecake, bagels, Donettes, drink soda, eat ice cream and not exercise! YEAH!

If you’re thinking option 1 or 2, then you need to get your head in the game! If you’re thinking option 3, well then, you might as well not even start because you’re not going to get very far.

So if you’re still reading, then welcome to the world of competitive rowing. You’re gonna love it…in about ten years!

If you want a little more information on how to train, you can always check out: Training, part 2: Specificity and How to Train or go straight to the How to Train section on this site.

Rowing is a sport that requires mental toughness so if you really want to be good, you need to get your head in the game as well. You can start by reading my article about Mental Training for Rowing.

So get to it! And good luck!

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Thanks for reading! –J.K.

P.S. If you think I’m full of it and know more than me about training, you can set up your own program by reading the articles in the Training section or just searching around the site.

Then try to make yourself better by actually doing it!


If you thought this was helpful, send it to your buddies who are also trying to make the team!

Main Page: Rowing Training Guide

Next Chapter: Mental Training for Rowing

First Chapter: Rowing Erg Training


Sources & references used in this article: